Time for your weekly helping of #weirdscifacts, from August 29-September 11!
169. Aug 29: Mathematician Girolamo Cardano was accused of heresy in 1570 for having cast the horoscope of Jesus Christ. Cardano has shown up before in these facts — he was quite a character!
170. Aug 30: A single ultra-high-energy cosmic ray (elementary particle) can have the energy of a 60 mph baseball! Those who worry about the LHC destroying the world should be reassured that these unusual cosmic rays, which have energies more than a million times higher than those to be produced in the accelerator, hit Earth regularly without effect.
171. Aug 31: Hermit crab vacancy chains — crabs line up and “swap up” shells with each other.
172. Sep 01: First observation of Pluto’s moon Charon was almost dismissed as a defect in the photographic plate.
173. Sep 02: Laser-like population inversion in lightning discharges? (via Optics & Photonics News). A subscription is required to read the article, unfortunately! The gist of it: a key to laser operation is the phenomenon of population inversion, in which more atoms are in an energetically excited state than in the “ground” state. When light interacts with these atoms via a process known as stimulated emission, it can cause an “avalanche” of light that is, in essence, laser light. Population inversion is achieved in some lasers by the use of an electrical discharge, and recent evidence suggests that lightning bolts can induce population inversion in nitrogen gas in the air!
174. Sep 03: The giant bat-eating centipede (video not for faint of heart)!
175. Sep 04: The London “Cleopatra’s Needle” was abandoned at sea due to a storm and presumed lost in 1877 — and found 4 days later. The obelisk was being towed behind a ship named the Olga in a huge iron cylinder, but during a storm the cylinder was rolling uncontrollably. Six crewmen were tragically lost in an attempt to stabilize it, and the cylinder was cut free and officially reported lost. It was remarkably found four days later by Spanish trawlers, still afloat, and eventually made it to London — after a salvage claim was settled!
176. Sep 05: Members of a family in Turkey are fully quadrupedal, and cannot walk on two legs. (Uner Tan syndrome)
177. Sep 06: Physicist Wolfgang Pauli died in 1958 in hospital room 137 — Pauli spent his life studying fine structure constant, ~1/137.
178. Sep 07: Supersolids — act like a solid & frictionless superfluid simultaneously!
182. Sep 11: Before becoming a naturalist, Lamarck (1744-1829) was a war hero at age 17 who assumed command of his decimated unit. (He left the army because, after the same battle, a comrade lifted him playfully *by the head* and serious injured him.) Lamarck, as the youngest member of his unit, was put in charge by the others who assumed he would immediately order a retreat. Instead, he demanded the soldiers remain at their post and fight!